Agatha Christie is one of my all-time favourite authors, and, while 'Crooked House' is personally not one of my favourites of her books, it is not hard at all to see why she herself thought very highly of it (one of her favourites reputedly).
It is a terrific book with a dark atmosphere, a lot of suspense, even more unexpected and delicious red herrings and twists, well-defined characters, a strong mystery and one of her most shocking and most ballsy endings. She didn't have one quite like this, with a murderer that one does not expect with a quite frightening motivation.
Can totally understand the mixed reception for this 2017 film adaptation of 'Crooked House', both from book purists and especially for those not familiar with the source material. Was very mixed on it myself, there are worse Agatha Christie adaptations as well as much better. As an adaptation, it is not exactly dumbed down, nor is it a complete re-write like some of the Geraldine McEwen adaptations. In fact, there are a lot of recognisable elements as well as having things that add nothing.
On the flip side, 'Crooked House' feels bland, as an adaptation and as a standalone (a lot of the criticisms unusually this time round have actually come from those unfamiliar with the book beforehand). It lacks the suspense of the book, much tighter direction would have helped in particularly Hayward's backstory scenes, which felt like irrelevant padding and slowed the story down in what was already a film that was prone to pedestrian direction.
What it also lacks is the well-defined characterisation, here with so many suspects one doesn't really get to know most of them. The characters that the film focuses most on are also the least interesting, while others especially Laurence are so underwritten that one forgets they are even there most of the time. The most interesting characters are actually Edith and Josephine.
Max Irons is a dull, charmless lead and shares very little chemistry with Stefanie Martini as Sophia, who plays the character with charm and allure but could have brought a harder edge. Pacing is also odd, parts do feel pedestrian while the staging of the ending is slightly rushed.
There are positives with 'Crooked House' conversely. Apart from some sloppy editing at times, it looks wonderful. Very elegant and atmospheric, with deliciously evocative attention to period detail and sumptuous photography. The music is haunting and jaunty if occasionally a little intrusive. The script, which has a lot of talk and requires full attention all the time, is thought-provoking and droll.
It is thankful that the twisty nature of the story and its darkness are still intact, the red herrings and twists fascinate and shock. Likewise with the final revelation, it was very brave to keep it intact and because it is such an ingenious ending that really makes impact in the book it would have induced fury by me if changed. Luckily it also still leaves me floored, although the film rushes the pacing and staging of it, is chilling, in some ways affecting and in Christie's time and now it's pretty daring.
Some other scenes leave impact. There is a suitably awkward and well-staged dinner scene, while the scenes between Hayward and Josephine actually feel relevant and add a lot of intrigue to the mystery and Josephine's character. It is something of a shame though that the difference in acting quality is obvious, young Honor Kneafsey far outshines Irons when they're together. Other than Irons, the acting is good.
Particularly from an enigmatically regal Glenn Close, gravitas-filled Terence Stamp (underused but great) and beyond her years Honor Kneafsey. Unrecognisable Gillian Anderson (looking like Cleopatra risen from the dead in mid 20th century period detail) , vampish Christina Hendricks and firm Julian Sands are also fine. Christian McKay is pretty wasted.
Concluding, a crooked mixed feelings adaptation of terrific source material. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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